By Laura Slatalla, Recent ASU Nutrition Student
Fats often get a bad rap, but they’re actually really vital for our body systems to function properly. Let’s go over what we consider a “good” fat vs “bad” fat. It is best to avoid saturated fats and Trans fats. These increase the risks for heart disease by raising LDL cholesterol. Unsaturated fats are generally found in plant-based foods and oils. These are really beneficial. We need them to absorb fat soluble vitamins, provide energy, and complete functions in the body.
Omega 3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats- meaning they have double bonds throughout their structures. Think about a kinked structure compared to a straight one. The straight line will stack easier, which would be more saturated. The double bonds create unsaturated fats.
We need to be concerned about three of these types of fats: alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Our bodies can produce EPA and DHA from ALA, but it is limited, so we should aim to include all three in our diets.
Most ALA is used as an energy source, but it is also used as the basis for DHA and EPA. Without enough ALA, we would also be deficient in the other two. Good sources are: walnuts, canola oil, and flaxseed.
DHA is mainly found in fish and fish oils. A lot of DHA is found in the brain tissue, and it can help prevent Alzheimer’s and memory loss and encourage healing. Fish really is food for the brain! Children need DHA while they’re brain is developing. Pregnant women and people who don’t eat meat should take a supplement to ensure that they are not deficient.
EPA is found in fish and fish oils too. It may be used to treat schizophrenia and has antioxidant effects.
Omega 3s are so important for preventing cardiovascular disease and helping to maintain our cardiovascular system. They keep those saturated fats moving in the bloodstream, help regulate blood pressure and keep our red blood cells from clumping. Not only do they keep our arteries healthy- they play a role in hormones, nerve transmissions, as well as cell division. Their scope is pretty extensive!
It’s a good idea to incorporate fish into your weekly diet, just try to stay away from fried fish. Cook with canola oil and look into taking supplements if it’s not possible.